World of Warcraft is an amazing gaming phenomenon and is the cash cow of all cash cows. It has 11 million monthly subscribers, which is over 60% of the total world market for these games. And a lot of its success is down to the powerful combination of gaming and social networking.
Other game publishers have tried to compete by bringing out “me too” clones, such as Warhammer Online, published by Electronic Arts. In September 2008 they were reporting that they had sold 1.2 million copies of this yet by March 2009 they were down to 300,000 subscribers. If the might of Electronic Arts can’t crack World of Warcraft then who can?
I have repeatedly made the case for free MMOs on here, with alternative business models to generate revenue. Such as a premium version of the game, the sale of in game items and carrying advertising. There are a number of great successes in the market. Habbo has 118 million registered avatars and 8 million unique monthly visitors. Maple Story (from Korea) has over 50 million players. Club Penguin (now owned by Disney) had over 12 million players. And Runescape (recognised by Guinness World Records as the world’s most popular free MMORPG) has 8.5 million active accounts.
The World of Warcraft killer will be a game like this. But most important will be the integration of social networking and gameplay, the combination that has made WoW such a success. And Free Realms, from Sony, could be showing us all how to do it. With 5 million subscribers after 7 weeks and growing at the rate of half a million new subscribers a week they have very quickly joined the ranks of the major players in this area. When it goes on Playstation PS3 it will be massive. And if they made it available for the 100 million plus PS2 owners in the world they could hit a whole new audience.
The critical factor with each of these games is the player demographic. A game targeted at too narrow an age group or at just one sex is going to have less WoW killer potential. It is essential to get the content and the marketing right to build the broadest possible community. It can be done.